THE MANY PIECES OF EVIDENCE SUGGESTING TRUMP OBSTRUCTED JUSTICE

[This post first appeared on BillMoyers.com on Oct. 23, 2017]

On Oct. 4, 2017, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said that all issues relating to the investigation into Russian interference with the election remain open. But with respect to the firing of FBI Director James Comey, the committee had gone as far as it could and was passing the baton: “Future questions surrounding Comey’s firing are better answered by the [special] counsel or by the Justice Department,” Burr said.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating whether Trump’s interactions with Comey amount to obstruction of justice. The charge can be leveled at anyone, including the president, who attempts to influence, obstruct or impede a federal investigation or a judicial process.

Most people assume that Comey’s firing is the linchpin of any obstruction of justice case against Donald Trump. And while it’s certainly important, it’s just one brick in a longer road. The BillMoyers.com Trump-Russia Timeline reveals that Trump’s Comey predicament is far worse than wherever the act of firing him takes Mueller. Long before he dismissed the FBI director — and for months thereafter — Trump took numerous actions that could now support an obstruction of justice charge. Consider:

  • On Jan. 27, 2017 — a week after the inauguration — acting Attorney General Sally Yates spoke with White House counsel Don McGahn about national security adviser Michael Flynn. In December, Flynn had been in contact repeatedly with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. In public statements, Vice President Mike Pence and press secretary Sean Spicer had said that Flynn engaged in no discussions about Russian sanctions with Kislyak. But, Yates informed McGahn, that was not consistent with what US intelligence agencies knew to be true. Someone, presumably Flynn, was lying, and that made him potentially susceptible to blackmail by the Russians, who knew the truth about those conversations. On the same day that Yates spoke to McGahn, Trump invited FBI Director Comey to a private dinner at the White House. “I need loyalty,” Trump told him.

 

  • Two weeks later, as advisers were leaving an Oval Office meeting, Trump asked Comey to remain. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump told him on Feb. 14.

 

 

 

 

  • On May 2—the eve of FBI Director James Comey’s scheduled testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee—Trump supplemented his ongoing “Russia hoax” tweets with a more subtle form of obstruction—witness intimidation:

  • After Comey’s Senate appearance, Trump fumed about his testimony. Over the weekend of May 6-7 at his Bedminster Golf Club, he and aide Stephen Miller drafted a four-page letter directed to Comey, outlining Trump’s reasons for firing him.

 

  • On Monday, May 8, Sally Yates was preparing to testify about her January conversations with Don McGahn concerning Mike Flynn, and Trump unleashed another tweet smacking of witness intimidation:

  • Later that morning, Trump read his draft Comey termination letter aloud to several advisers, including White House counsel Don McGahn and Vice President Mike Pence. Together with Kushner and then-chief of staff Reince Priebus, McGahn and Pence drafted talking points about Comey’s planned firing. Meanwhile, Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for a memo outlining their problems with Comey. They complied, and Trump cited their recommendations as his reason for firing the FBI director. On May 9, Trump fired Comey.

 

 

  • All of that went for naught on May 10, when Trump confessed, first on May 10 to Russians in the Oval Office and then, on May 11, to the world on NBC, that he made the decision to fire Comey because of “Russia.”

 

  • The next day—as The New York Times reported on Trump’s Jan. 27 “loyalty dinner” with Comey—Trump again used Twitter to intimidate a key witness:

  • Asked at a May 18 news conference whether he had ever asked Comey to close or back down on the investigation into Mike Flynn, Trump answered, “No. No. Next question.”

 

  • On June 8, Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump had asked him about Russia repeatedly and that he perceived Trump’s expressed “hope” about “letting Flynn go” as an order. The next day, Trump called Comey a liar and accused him of leaking classified information.

 

  • After the May 17 appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump-Russia connections, Trump’s attacks on Robert Mueller were relentless, along with reports that Trump was considering firing him. In a July 19 interview with The New York Times, Trump referred to what he viewed as the appropriate limits to Mueller’s investigation. A week later, The Wall Street Journal asked him if Mueller’s job is safe. “No, we’re going to see,” Trump said.

 

  • Meanwhile, on July 8, 2017, Trump was helping his son draft a misleading statement about a June 9, 2016 campaign meeting at Trump Tower between his top advisers and three Russians who had promised to bring “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The cover-up of that cover-up—that is, obfuscating the extent of Trump’s role in drafting his son’s original statement—lasted less than a month.

Why has Trump tried to shut down the Russia investigation, lied about Comey’s firing, persisted in efforts to intimidate key witnesses, inserted himself into misleading statements about his campaign advisers’ meetings with Russians offering to help him win the election, and held the sword of Damocles over the special counsel investigating him? Behind any effort to obstruct justice is a fear of the truth.

In a thorough 108-page factual and legal analysis for the Brookings Institution, Barry H. Berke, Noah Bookbinder, and Norman Eisen outline in great detail the case against Trump. People lie for a reason, and Trump is no exception. What he feared—and apparently still fears—continues to seep out.

Trump’s erratic behavior has many questioning his mental fitness to remain in office. But throughout his life, Trump’s actions have always been rational in a key respect: Trump does what is best for Trump. If that means obstructing justice, so be it.

THE TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE: UPDATES THROUGH OCT. 17, 2017

Could there be a correlation between Trump’s intensifying chaos and the unfolding story of the Trump-Russia investigation?

Additions to our main Trump-Russia Timeline:

  • On or Shortly After Jan. 10, 2017: Manafort Calls Priebus About ‘Steele Dossier’
  • March 3, 2017: Trump Vents Anger About Sessions Recusal [revision of previous entry]
  • July 14, 2017: Trump Campaign’s Digital Director Issues Statement
  • Oct. 4, 2017: Nunes Signs Subpoenas Relating to ‘Steele Dossier’
  • Oct. 5, 2017: Trump Dines with Priebus
  • Oct. 10, 2017: Page To Take the Fifth
  • Oct. 11, 2017: Cambridge Analytica Cooperating with House Probe
  • Oct. 11, 2017: Trump Drags Feet on Russian Sanction
  • Oct. 12, 2017: House Threatens to Subpoena Stone
  • Oct. 13, 2017: Mueller Interviews Priebus
  • Oct. 13, 2017: NBC: More Manafort Money Ties to Russian Oligarch
  • Oct. 13, 2017: Russian Banker Denies Felix Sater’s Trump Tower Claims

Additions to our timeline of the Comey firing:

  • Oct. 5, 2017: Trump Dines with Priebus
  • Oct. 13, 2017: Mueller Interviews Priebus

Additions to our Kushner Timeline:

  • July 14, 2017: Trump Campaign’s Digital Director Issues Statement
  • Oct. 11, 2017: Cambridge Analytica Cooperating with House Probe

THE TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE: UPDATES THROUGH OCT. 9, 2017

Lost in the controversy over the “Steele dossier” is an important fact: Key aspects of Christopher Steele’s investigation turned out to be true.

Here’s a list of what we added with our Oct. 9 update:

Additions to our main Trump-Russia Timeline:

  • Sept. 10, 2013: US Attorney Bharara Files Prevezon Case
  • Early August 2016: Steele Gives the FBI Documents About Alleged Trump-Russia Connections
  • June 9, 2016: Don Jr., Manafort, Kushner Meet With Russian Lawyer [revision of previous entry]
  • Oct. 31, 2016: David Corn Breaks ‘Steele Dossier’ Story
  • Dec. 9, 2016: McCain Delivers ‘Steele Dossier’ to FBI Director Comey
  • Jan. 6, 2017: CIA, FBI, NSA: ‘Putin Ordered an Influence Campaign in 2016’ [revision of previous entry]
  • Jan. 10, 2017: BuzzFeed Publishes ‘Steele Dossier’
  • Jan. 10, 2017: Trump Dismisses ‘Steele Dossier’ as ‘Fake News’
  • Jan. 11, 2017: Trump Blasts ‘Steele Dossier’
  • Jan. 11, 2017: Trump Tweets About BuzzFeed and Russia
  • Jan. 11, 2017: WSJ Identifies Author of ‘Steele Dossier’
  • Jan. 13, 2017: Trump Dismisses Steele as ‘Failed Spy’ Promoting ‘Fake News’
  • Jan. 14, 2017: Trump Tweets About ‘Steele Dossier’
  • Jan. 15, 2017: Trump: ‘We Should Trust Putin’; Blasts Steele
  • March 10, 2017: Trump Fires US Attorney Preet Bharara and 45 Other US Attorneys [revision of previous entry]
  • March 21, 2017: Magnitsky’s Lawyer Suffers Severe Injuries [revision of previous entry]
  • May 12, 2017: DOJ Settles Civil Russian Money Laundering Case; Criminal Case Continues [revision of previous entry]
  • Summer 2017: Mueller Interviews Steele
  • July 2017: Nunes’ Aide Sends Staffers to Contact Steele
  • Oct. 6, 2017: Steele Talking to Senate Intelligence Committee

Additions to our timeline of the Comey firing:

  • Dec. 9, 2016: McCain Delivers ‘Steele Dossier’ to FBI Director Comey
  • Summer 2017: Mueller Interviews Steele

Additions to our Kushner Timeline:

  • June 9, 2016: Don Jr., Manafort, Kushner Meet With Russian Lawyer [revision of previous entry]
  • May 12, 2017: DOJ Settles Civil Russian Money Laundering Case; Criminal Case Continues [revision of previous entry]

Here’s a list of what we added with our Oct. 7 update:

Additions to our main Trump-Russia Timeline:

  • June 14, 2016: Rohrabacher’s Request to Show Pro-Russia Film During House Committee Hearing is Denied
  • Nov. 8, 2016: Election Day Troubles [revision of previous entry]
  • April 11, 2017: Rohrabacher Meets with Rinat Akhmetshin in Berlin
  • Oct. 3, 2017: Mueller Researching Limits of Presidential Pardon Power
  • Oct. 4, 2017: Interim Press Conference with Senate Intelligence Committee Chair and Vice-chair
  • Oct. 4, 2017: Senate Intelligence Committee Leaders Announce Briefing; Trump Tweets
  • Oct. 5, 2017: Trump Tweets

Additions to our timeline of the Comey firing:

  • Oct. 3, 2017: Mueller Researching Limits of Presidential Pardon Power
  • Oct. 4, 2017: Interim Press Conference with Senate Intelligence Committee Chair and Vice-chair

Additions to our Kushner Timeline:

  • Nov. 8, 2016: Election Day Troubles [revision of previous entry]

Here’s a list of what we added with our Oct. 2 update:

Additions to our main Trump-Russia Timeline:

  • October 2015: Cohen Receives Proposal for Moscow Residential Project
  • March 31, 2016: Trump Meets with Foreign Policy Advisers
  • April 11, 2016: Manafort to Russian Business Associate: ‘How Do We Use to Get Whole?’
  • June 2016: Sater Emails Cohen About Attending Russian International Economic Forum
  • July 7, 2016: Manafort Offers to Brief Oligarch Close to Putin [revision of previous entry]
  • July 18, 2016: Trump Campaign Successfully Changes GOP Platform on Ukraine [revision of previous entry]
  • June 15, 2017: Pence Hires Outside Attorney, Says He Will Cooperate with Mueller [revision of previous entry]
  • June 15, 2017: Reports: Mueller Is Investigating Kushner; McGahn Worries About Kushner-Trump Meetings
  • July 15, 2017: White House Hires Attorney for Trump-Russia Matters [revision of previous entry]
  • Sept. 28, 2017: Mueller Interviews NSC Chief of Staff Kellogg
  • Sept. 28, 2017: Senators are Concerned that Trump May Not Enforce New Russia Sanctions
  • Sept. 29, 2017: Fox News: Investigators Reviewing March 2016 Meeting of Trump Campaign’s National Security Advisers

Additions to our timeline of the Comey firing:

  • June 15, 2017: Pence Hires Outside Attorney, Says He Will Cooperate with Mueller [revision of previous entry]
  • Sept. 28, 2017: Mueller Interviews NSC Chief of Staff Kellogg
  • Sept. 29, 2017: Fox News: Investigators Reviewing March 2016 Meeting of Trump Campaign’s National Security Advisers

Additions to our Kushner Timeline:

  • June 15, 2017: Reports: Mueller Is Investigating Kushner; McGahn Worries About Kushner-Trump Meetings
  • July 15, 2017: White House Hires Attorney for Trump-Russia Matters [revision of previous entry]

Additions to our Pence Timeline:

  • June 15, 2017: Pence Hires Outside Attorney, Says He Will Cooperate with Mueller [revision of previous entry]

DAN RATHER’S AMERICA

Excerpts from my Oct. 3, 2017 appearance on “Dan Rather’s America” (on Radio Andy – Sirius XM 102 Radio):

Steven Harper Tells Dan Rather Why the Russia Investigation Is Not Overblown
https://youtu.be/4HVaplkgrG8

Steven Harper on Jared Kushner’s Role in the Evolving Russia Investigation
https://youtu.be/7O1UnJ_dzws

Is “Attack” Too Strong of a Term to Describe Russia’s Actions?
https://youtu.be/u2MN-Gnvqqk

 

DAN RATHER INTERVIEW

Here are three short excerpts from my Oct. 3 interview with Dan Rather on Sirius XM 102 — “Dan Rather’s America” on Radio Andy:
**
Steven Harper Tells Dan Rather Why the Russia Investigation Is Not Overblown
https://youtu.be/4HVaplkgrG8
**
Steven Harper on Jared Kushner’s Role in the Evolving Russia Investigation https://youtu.be/7O1UnJ_dzws
**
Is “Attack” Too Strong of a Term to Describe Russia’s Actions? https://youtu.be/u2MN-Gnvqqk

OCTOBER 3, 2017

On Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, you can:

  1. Listen to my conversation with Dan Rather on Sirius XM Channel 102. (“Dan Rather’s America” on Radio Andy at 10:00 am EDT) We’ll be discussing the Trump-Russia Timeline at BillMoyers.com
  2. Take advantage of a Kindle promotion and download my novel, The Partnership.” Through Oct. 7, it’s free. 

TRUMP LAWYERS, BEWARE!

[This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Sept. 28, 2017.]

NOTE: On October 3, 2017 at 10:00 EDT/9:00 CDT, my interview with Dan Rather on the Trump-Russia Timeline will air on “Dan Rather’s America” — Radio Andy, Sirius XM 102

Former White House counsel John Dean counted 21 lawyers involved in Watergate wrongdoing. Among the most prominent were President Richard M. Nixon, White House Domestic Affairs Adviser John Ehrlichman, Attorney General John Mitchell, Nixon’s personal attorney Herbert Kalmbach, White House special counsel Charles Colson, Egil “Bud” Krogh—who headed the “Plumbers” unit involved in the break-in—and Dean himself. History may not repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes.

Obstructing justice requires more than a president’s single-handed efforts. It’s a team sport. Whether intentional or unwitting, complicit attorneys bring a unique disgrace to their profession and do enormous damage to the country. Upon admission to the bar, all of Trump’s advisers with JDs swore an oath to defend the Constitution and uphold the rule of law. Beginning the week of Oct. 1, many of them could face tough questions about whether they witnessed or participated in criminal wrongdoing at the highest levels of government.

At the moment, special counsel Robert Mueller has Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort (JD, Georgetown, ’74) in the hottest seat. But Mueller has also informed the White House that he wants to interview at least three lawyers who are present or former staffers. Others inside and outside the White House could join that line.

If he is following a typical prosecutorial approach—working from the bottom up in questioning witnesses who may have information pertinent to the investigation—Mueller has already reached rarified air. One of his early picks now sits in the office that John Dean once occupied, White House counsel Don McGahn (JD, Widener, ‘94), who reportedly has “a couple documents” so sensitive that he keeps them locked in a safe and away from Trump’s personal attorney, Ty Cobb (JD, Georgetown, ’78). Thanks to Cobb’s recent public comments over lunch with another Trump attorney, John Dowd (JD, Emory, ’65), Mueller can now be quite specific in seeking that material.

Long before the Cobb-Dowd luncheon that will become a case study in law school courses on professional irresponsibility, Mueller said he wanted to speak with one of McGahn’s deputies, James Burnham, (JD, U of Chicago, ’09). Burnham was reportedly with McGahn on Jan. 26, 2017, when acting Attorney General Sally Yates told them about her concerns with then-national security adviser Michael Flynn. Yet for more than two weeks after that briefing, Flynn remained in the nation’s most sensitive national security post. Reasonable investigators might want to know what McGahn did during to protect the country during that period. After all, the White House counsel is not any president’s personal attorney.

The third lawyer reportedly on Mueller’s current request list is Reince Priebus (JD, Miami, ’98). Other than as an indefatigable Trump defender, Priebus’ role in the Flynn episode is unclear. But Priebus was at the center of another Trump firestorm: the cover-up relating to the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Apparently, Mueller has not yet questioned other attorneys involved in the Comey cover-up, but everyone knows who they are. Jared Kushner (JD/MBA, NYU, ’07) spent the weekend at Bedminster, NJ urging Trump to fire Comey. Then he reportedly joined Priebus, McGahn, and Vice President Mike Pence (JD-Indiana-Robert W. McKinney, ’86) to draft talking points. Pence saw or heard Trump read aloud his four-page letter outlining the reasons he was firing Comey. Pence also took the cover-up to Capitol Hill.

A president’s outside attorneys are at risk, too. On July 12, 2017, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, Jay Sekulow (JD, Mercer, ’80), told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that Trump had no role in drafting Don Jr.’s first misleading statement about the June 9, 2016 meeting between top Trump advisers and three Russians. “The president didn’t sign off on anything,” he said. Four days later, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd the same thing: “I do want to be clear – that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement.” Sekulow’s best defense now is that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Since Nixon’s impeachment, the seminal lesson of political scandals has been: “It’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up.” Eventually, the public will learn whether Trump’s advisers have heeded that lesson. When that day arrives, it could become an especially embarrassing moment for those with legal degrees.